Kansas City Power and Light District

Lighting Up A City

by Hayden Spiess

From the outside, the story of the Kansas City Power & Light District seems like a familiar one: an urban revitalization fueled by a succession of development milestones.

Looking closer — and talking with people who have been a part of the journey — reveals something much more interesting — even remarkable. Today, as the project celebrates its 15-year anniversary, the $1 billion mixed-use district that received the Urban Land Institute Award of Excellence in 2009 isn’t just going strong, it’s reaching new heights. In the process, the Power & Light District has become a model for how to plan, build and sustain an urban revitalization that has just as much substance as sizzle.

An Electrifying Neighborhood

Today, the Power & Light District is a dynamic retail, entertainment, office, and residential district welcoming 10 million annual visitors to the heart of downtown Kansas City. It’s the cornerstone of a $9.7 billion urban renaissance that includes a new performing arts venue, an arena, a convention center expansion, an abundance of retail and restaurant options, and 12,000 new urban residential units. Featured prominently in international World Cup Soccer and Super Bowl broadcasts, the Power & Light District has emerged as the public face of the city that has true momentum.

According to John Moncke, president of the Power & Light District and a longtime downtown Kansas City resident, the Power & Light District is more than a successful project, it’s a catalyst that has transformed downtown Kansas City.

“The Power & Light District ignited downtown,” says Moncke. “We brought much needed vision, creativity, scale and commitment. We could not be prouder of the positive influence and impact  that our project has had on Kansas City.” 

Big goals, big picture

The original vision for the Power & Light District two decades ago was to create an environment that would become Kansas City’s most attractive and engaging place to live, work and play.

“It was an incredibly ambitious goal back then,” says Moncke. “The vibrant downtown Kansas City that we all know and love today didn’t exist back then. “We knew that in order to realize our vision, we would have to curate a thoughtful mix of entertainment, retail, restaurants, office and multifamily. The goal was to create a 365/24/7 neighborhood for residents and community members to thrive: a development that would be truly transformative for Kansas City.”

That transformation started with an emphasis on attracting more people downtown via entertainment — a familiar formula for Cordish Companies. The Baltimore-based developer has built a reputation as an entertainment pioneer, and its award-winning Live! entertainment and hospitality brand is widely regarded as one of the premier entertainment brands in the country. Kansas City Live!, located across from the T-Mobile Center, is a multi-level dining and entertainment anchor that showcases a unique mix of 15 best-in-class restaurants, taverns and entertainment attractions, as well as a covered outdoor plaza that attracts millions of visitors annually to concerts, sporting and special events.

Entertainment may have led the way, but a game-changing residential component has been a part of the plan from day one. The first residential building opened in 2015. One Light Luxury Apartments was the first newly constructed high-rise apartment building in downtown Kansas City in over 50 years. The 25-story tower at the corner of 13th and Walnut Streets set a new standard for luxury residential development in the Midwest and was followed not long after by Two Light Luxury Apartments, a $120 million 24-story high-end residential project with high-end amenities and 18,100 square feet of office and retail space. A third luxury multifamily tower, the iconic Three Light building, opened in September 2023. Construction is also underway on Midland Lofts, a redevelopment of the historic Midland Office Building into a 135-unit residential building that is directly connected to the historic Midland Theatre, slated to open this spring.

Character and community

A visitor to downtown Kansas City cannot help but be struck by the Power & Light District’s unique mix of attractive new buildings and historic renovations. The diverse architectural palette exudes depth and character and conveys the feeling of a community that has evolved organically over time.

Within a few blocks, it’s possible to visit the near-century-old Midland Theater for a show, take in the energy of Kansas City Live!, or catch a performance at the T-Mobile Center. That diversity of design and experience is immersive and attention grabbing.

“Because there’s so much to do, downtown naturally draws a lot of visitors,” explains Moncke. “That said, calling it a destination doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s a community — a neighborhood — the soul of downtown Kansas City.”

An evolving mix of brands and businesses

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the downtown population has more than doubled since work on the project began in 2005. There are over 1,000 residential units in the Power & Light District alone.

Cordish has been intentional from the beginning, with a leasing strategy that features a mix of local favorites, regional success stories, and popular national brands.

“We want to showcase the best of Kansas City along with familiar and iconic brands and businesses,” explains Moncke. “Getting that mix right is a big part of our formula for creating a memorable and distinctive sense of place.”

It’s equally clear, however, that it’s an evolving mix. For example, Spark KC, an inspired collaborative co-working space that opened in 2020, is one unique use added to the Power & Light District that has made a major impact driving traffic to the project during all day parts.

Additionally, retail and dining options have subtly evolved over time to complement residential growth and cater to downtown residents. What better illustration of how the Power & Light District has matured than the merchandising approach of Cosentino’s Market, a popular gourmet grocery brand. When the grocer first opened, it offered a wide selection of prepared foods designed to serve those working and visiting downtown. Today, the market is expanding traditional grocery offerings to serve strong-and-growing demand from downtown residents and has committed to another decade downtown.

“Cosentino’s Market has been part of the downtown community for a long time as one of the original tenants to open more than a decade ago in the Power & Light District,” says proprietor John Consentino. “It’s remarkable to see how far this area has come and even more exciting to look ahead to where it’s going. We’re thrilled to be here and be a part of it.”

Here comes the neighborhood

Over the last 15 years, the Power & Light District has added new depth, character, services and experiences for residents and visitors. It has grown from a modest up-and-coming entertainment district to a thriving, vibrant, and fully realized neighborhood. Tenants who took a chance 10 years ago have renewed — and expanded. 

The Cordish Companies talks openly about its generational approach, a philosophy that encompasses a deep and abiding care and commitment to the communities its projects serve. That commitment is a meaningful one, says Moncke.

“The Cordish Companies owns and manages virtually every business we create. We don’t build to sell — we build to stay. The goal is for projects to not only make headlines, but to make a difference. There’s a reason why we have over 1,000 team members in the Kansas City Power & Light District alone — and why Cordish’s national residential division headquarters is based in Kansas City.”

Remarkably, over half of the people moving into the district are new Kansas City residents, strong evidence to support the idea that a mixed-use downtown environment can be both a destination and a true community. The project’s unique development arc shows how mixed-use developments can continue to grow and evolve to not only stay relevant, but to mature and thrive in exciting new ways.

Randall Shearin

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Shopping Center Business magazine.

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